Something of an impromptu Polldubh Club meet at Ardnamurchan yesterday, with Johnny and myself heading west to join Geoff, Tony and Phil (who’d been there overnight) on the Ring Crags. So we started at Achnaha Buttress because they all wanted to try it, Johnny fancied a look at Wheesht and nobody seemed to believe it wasn’t very nice, but a quick look was enough to convince Johnny that my two-year-old memory of ugly, sharp-chipped rock was spot-on and we left the others to climb Plocaig Rock while heading straight to Sgurr (Sron?) nan Gabhar. And here we set about the trilogy of HVS crack lines, with Johnny leading Ozone Layer, me leading Solar Wind (quite taxing for my first day on rock since October!) and Johnny taking over again for High Plains Drifter (which, having spent so much on Solar Wind, felt harder than I’d remembered from 2009), while Geoff, Tony and Phil arrived to do Thor, Mjollnir and Ozone Layer. After which we found ourselves back at the superb Meall an Fhir-eoin Beag, where I’d had my eye on Volcane as a possible E1 lead but, still not wholly trusting my fingers after a minor struggle to get established on the initial 4c crack, handed the 5b crux pitch to Johnny, who despatched it very nicely before declaring an interest in Minky at E2 5c or E1 5b depending on which guide you’ve got. So I said OK, if it’s the SMC’s 5c you might find me struggling to follow but I’ll probably be OK at Gary Latter’s 5b, Johnny made a very nice, steady lead of this lovely direct route up the rib to the right of Yir and I found most of it surprisingly amenable (NB the photo of Dave Cuthbertson in the SMC’s Scottish Rock Climbs doesn’t look like Minky!) despite being quite impressed by the thin and run-out crux. As for the grade, it just didn’t feel like 5c but it’s harder to judge when seconding so better ask the leader, and Johnny’s thinking appears to be along the lines of 5b but borderline E1/2. So I also led the easier, upper pitch (taking the steep, straight crack directly above rather than curving crack of Cuil Iolaire to the side when I’ve done both before and you could argue that both Minky and Yir are slightly compromised as classics by having no compellingly logical continuation pitches) and we left Geoff and Tony (who’d just done Crater Comforts) finishing the comparatively unsung VS of Not Today Dear (up the arete to the left of Oswald) while we headed for the road.
Now, having read all of this, you might just be wondering why I was jumping straight on HVSs and E1s (top grades for me as ones I rarely lead) for my first outing of the year when I could have been climbing myself in with something a little easier. And here I can only say that it cuts both ways, with some warm-up climbs sounding good in theory but also giving me the chance to bottle out when it’s so easy to talk a good climb till you’re actually there and looking at it, and in some ways easier just to get straight on before any such inhibitions get to you! So we had a great day of satisfying climbing even if I was both taxed by some of my leading and inelegant in its execution, but I’m under no illusions that I need to be climbing more regularly at these grades to give myself any chance of becoming truly comfortable with them. :-)
Photo of me on the crux of Minky courtesy of Geoff Hewitt and added 11 July.